Getting Paid to Learn to Paint

Generally speaking, most artists develop their skills in one of two ways; they either study under someone more experienced or they go the self-taught route. Rest assured, in the future I’ll weigh in on both. But since this is my first blog entry I’ll keep the focus on your’s truly, because my painting methodology evolved in a peculiar way. Therefore, I hereby officially start this blog by providing a little context.

I began drawing at the ripe old age of two. I drew incessantly while growing up and eventually enrolled in an art college with the hope of becoming a great artist. I was very comfortable with my drawing ability and I looked forward, with tremendous anticipation, to learning how to paint. However, this was the late 1960s and the prevailing philosophy, with regards to art education, was that technical knowledge inhibits creativity, so I left with a diploma in one hand and in the other, the knowledge that I would never ever be able to paint to save my life.

Thanks to my innate drawing ability, hard work, a little moxie and a pinch of savvy, I was able to carve out what eventually evolved into a high-profile career in the world of illustration. Initially, I developed a style which caught on quickly, and miraculously, I was asked to join the faculty at the School of Visual Arts in New York.

I started out doing cartoon style drawings–ironically, the same kind of work I did in high school–which over a ten-year span evolved into a more refined realistic drawing style. However, my desire to paint never went away, but as a busy illustrator I could ill afford the time to experiment or study with an established painter. My only viable option was to incorporate painting into my illustration work. That way I would get paid to learn how to paint. Brilliant! Only one problem, I didn’t have a clue how to do it. I tried to read as much as I could on the subject, but quickly discovered each book presented virtually the same set of confusing and illogical rules, what I now refer to as myth-information. So, I reasoned, since the methods they professed seemed so clueless, I would do the exact opposite of what they said.

What made my situation so unique was that I had students who were intrigued with all my newfound ideas and were eager to put them into action. I was the mad scientist and we were all guinea pigs. There was no agenda to be reckoned with, and no philosophy to be navigated. If something worked across the board I knew it was bulletproof, and if it didn’t, then I had to keep searching for a better solution. Little by little, a logical methodology of universal truths began to evolve.

My illustration career was taking off, too. I was painting covers for Time Magazine, illustrating national ad campaigns and creating movie posters. In each illustration assignment I painted, I would keep experimenting, always trying out some new twist or turn, all the while getting paid to learn how to paint.

As hard as it is to imagine, every single painting I did was a paid assignment. I learned how to paint by virtue of a collaborative effort funded by my illustration clients. The result is an extremely effective and sound methodology that allows me to be the kind of portrait artist I dreamed I would one day become. Until next time…


  1. Hi Marvin! I am looking forward to reading more posts based on your knowledge and experience as an illustrator and portrait artist.

  2. Congratulations on the birth of your blog. Even tho I know your “story” I love reading it! Looking forward to the next chapter!!

  3. Hi Marvin,

    Very happy to see your new blog. Am looking forward to reading your words of wisdom!


  4. Awesome Marvin….now I can have a little Mattelson whenever I need it!

  5. James Harris says

    I think your new blog is a great idea and I’m looking forward to following your posts. I love the part “technical knowledge inhibits creativity”. Unfortunately, that completely asinine mentality is still pervasive. I wish you the best in this new venture.

    • Great to hear from you James. Hopefully you don’t think that mentality applied to all yor teachers!

      • James Harris says

        I recently photographed a convention where a company had hired an orchestra conductor as it’s keynote speaker. He in turn hired the Orlando Philharmonic to accompany him. At a certain point in his presentation he invited a volunteer from the audience of a few thousand people to come up on stage and experience what it felt like to conduct an entire orchestra. He had her stand in front of him and he gave her the baton. Then, he grabbed her hand in his and proceeded to conduct a portion of a classical work. His point was to show her and let her feel through his experience and years of training what it was like to be in this position of authority directing musicians that also had spent years perfecting their skills and mastering their various instruments in the orchestra.

        You’d think this would be an unbelievably wonderful experience for her. Instead, she became incredibly upset. And when the music finished she proceeded to yell at him and chew him out for forcing her to conduct the orchestra the way he made her to. When she was invited on stage she thought she was going be able to stand in front of the orchestra and flail her arms about as the orchestra played their music. And I kid you not, she complained that he had forcibly stifled her creativity.

        I almost dropped my camera.

  6. Judy Mattelson says

    Love your blog…love you too.

  7. Wishing you the best for your blogging journey. I look forward to reading what you write, as I am not only a student of art, but of learning as well, I will readily devour what you state. You’re successful at what you do, and it’s my desire to follow any advice you give.


  8. I’m really intrigued!

  9. Its funny reading this post as I see myself in the same situation a little while ago. I was much the same drawing as a kid but never knew how to paint or even where to begin. I started to paint just a couple of years ago (2008) and I was terrible at it(still not good :). It wasn’t until I was able to get broadband I was able to scour the internet and begin to educate myself. It wasn’t until I read about a string palette by this Mattelson fellow 😉 that I then had one of those light-bulb moments…and I haven’t looked back! All I need to do is practice! It’s not easy trying to learn by yourself but thank goodness for the internet and people willing to share their knowledge… Hip hip HAZZAR!!!


  1. […] ground to learn picture making. (I guess you can say I got paid to learn to design, as well as paint.) Illustrators can traverse one of two paths. They can develop a strong visual style, providing a […]

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